[This is a review of Game of Thrones season 4, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
After a thematically consistent yet divisive episode last week, Game of Thrones returns with a far less explicitly challenging installment that nonetheless will likely generate considerable discourse for what it did in its final moments – which was show a White Walker quite literally welcome Craster’s last son into the fold of the frozen undead. That final glimpse of the child’s eyes turning radiant blue is a piece of knowledge the show hasn’t divulged before, as the White Walkers have more or less remained as a little seen but oft thought of presence. Their ways are largely unknown, so when the series decides to offer up such tantalizing and perplexing information, it’s offering knowledge that could potentially have massive ramifications when it comes to the overall plot of the show.
In that sense, ‘Oathkeeper’ – which brings Brienne and Jaime specialists Bryan Cogman and famed Breaking Bad director Michelle MacLaren – is all about the value of knowledge, and how, once dispersed, knowledge can never be bottled back up. In the right hands, things typically do not go unlearned. Here Cogman has been meticulous in his writing; there’s knowledge being disseminated everywhere in the episode, and under MacLaren’s typically superb direction, it becomes far more pointed and precise. For instance, just take a look at the aforementioned final scene with the council of White Walkers and the baby. MacLaren brilliantly keeps the approaching walker out of focus – at one point she even resorts to the common Breaking Bad method of watching action from the inside of an object outward – so that when the frame is pulled completely into focus, the audience is wholly aware the formerly obscured portion is now delivering significant, noteworthy information.
But the episode effectively touches upon the notion of knowledge and the ultimate power it wields in more overt ways, as well. Sprinkled throughout every character’s thread are hints of the importance of information, awareness, and comprehension. Knowledge of the truth, knowledge of fighting, and basic knowledge, like learning to speak and read a different language are all aspects of Daenerys quick, liberation of Meereen. Meanwhile back at King’s Landing (and somewhere off the coast of King’s Landing, presumably) knowledge of who conspired to kill Joffrey begins to make its way to the ears of those who were previously in the dark.
Petyr Baelish almost gleefully informs Sansa of her unwitting involvement in the king’s assassination, while letting her in on his ultimate goal: having everything. In the two short scenes Aidan Gillen has had this season, he delivers his lines likes Littlefinger is preparing to devour all of Westeros in one big gulp; he’s just waiting to pull it all into the gaping maw that feeds his consumptive ferocity and need of acquisition. He’s a slight man hiding an incredible appetite, and as strong and seemingly unobtainable as Baelish’s desire is, it’s interesting to note that he’s not so much wanting it to happen as he is simply waiting for it to happen.
Perhaps that’s why Littlefinger has aligned himself with the Tyrell’s, a family of doers. Olenna’s not afraid to kill a monster poised to marry her granddaughter, even if he is seated upon the Iron Throne (as we surmised in our “Purple Wedding Explanation“). That kind of undertaking requires more than sheer chutzpah (which Olenna has in spades) to pull it off; it takes a considerable amount of know-how, something that is only acquired when a person gets to be Olenna’s age – a rare thing in Westeros, one would imagine.
On the Lannister side of things, Jaime pays a visit to the man accused of Joffrey’s murder after Bronn informs him Tyrion’s first choice to be his champion was, in fact, his older brother. Spurred on by this knowledge, as well as concerns over his as-yet unwritten legacy, Jaime entrusts his Valyrian steel sword, Podrick, and the oath he gave to Catelyn Stark to Brienne, adding another layer of complexity to a man who essentially soiled the goodwill he’d earned with his actions during ‘Breaker of Chains.’
The power of knowledge is prominent throughout the Castle Black segment, as well as north of the Wall with Karl and the other mutineers at Craster’s Keep. This time, however, it’s more about deliberately limiting knowledge in order to maintain an advantage. On one hand (pun intended), there is Locke’s infiltration of the Night’s Watch to get closer to Bran in Rickon, while on the other, there is Jon Snow’s increasingly desperate attempt to prevent the knowledge that Karl and the other mutineers have from falling into Mance Rayder’s possession.
For an episode that essentially serves as a kick-starter for deviations in certain threads and entirely new courses in others, ‘Oathkeeper’ is a solid entry that once again demonstrates many viewers already know: Game of Thrones raises even its own bar whenever there’s a simple thematic element at its episode’s core.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with ‘First of His Name’ @ 9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Helen Sloan & Macall B. Polay/HBO